Farewell to two pivotal figures: The founder of Inmos, and the co-creator of MIME

Iann Barron and Ned Freed were key innovators in computer comms

Obituary The IT community has suffered a double loss with the passing of two industry icons.

A post in the Facebook group for former Inmos staff says that the company's founder, Professor Iann Marchant Barron, died at the age of 85 last month.

The IEEE called Barron "the one-time enfant terrible of the UK computing industry." In the words of his son, Marchant Barron:

He invented parallel processing, had dinner with the Queen and has been arrested for being a spy.

As The Reg quoted him, when writing about the influence of Inmos and the Transputer:

Iann Barron, now in his mid-seventies, looks back on Inmos as a venture deferred rather than defeated. He likens the Transputer to Babbage's mechanical computing engines, devised in the 19th century, their significance not appreciated for more than 50 years after his death. "People will eventually see what we were talking about, and they'll say, 'yes, well, they did it'."

Transputer test module

Transputer test module

While still a third-year student at Cambridge, Barron worked at Elliott Brothers, where he designed the Elliott 803 computer, one of which you can see running at the National Museum of Computing and a machine which had a pivotal role in the development of the ALGOL programming language.

He later become an employee, but when the company refused to incorporate some of his ideas, he left and started Computer Technology Limited. Its Modular One computer had a pioneering asynchronous symmetrical point-to-point bus interconnecting its components, and enjoyed particular success in the space industry.

Inmos T800

>On-die memory: the Transputer had it 30 years before it became fashionable...

When one of CTL's major customers collapsed, Barron left and started Inmos, where he invented the Transputer processor. The transputer's inter-processor links built on the design of the Modular One's interconnect, and in turn, the transputer protocol led to IEEE standard 1355, which is the origin [PDF] of the SpaceWire network protocol used by NASA, ESA, JAXA, and Roscosmos.

RIP, standards legend Ned Freed

Edwin Earl Freed, known to his many co-workers as Ned Freed, died at just 63 years old. Freed was the author or co-author of a remarkable 50 different RFC documents, but one of these has touched more people's lives than most of them.

RFC 1341 is the specification for Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME). Although MIME is the standard that allowed for emails to carry attachments, it also does far more. It allows emails to contain more than plain ASCII text, and MIME encoding is how web servers describe the contents of the files they send to web browsers. As such, it is used trillions of times every day.

Freed started a company called Innosoft to commercialize his work, which was acquired by Sun Microsystems in 2000. He continued his work at Sun, and later at Oracle, although that acquisition led some of his Innosoft colleagues to leave.

Freed suffered from ulcerative colitis for much of his life, which in recent years prevented him from traveling to conferences, but despite this he continued his work as a negotiator and facilitator of internet standards via the IETF.

Nathaniel Borenstein, the co-author of MIME, has written a touching tribute to his colleague, which The Reg cannot hope to better. ®

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